Hot Off the Collar | Volume 2

When I started this job five months ago, I knew the deal. Amidst all the happy, enlightening and life-affirming stories, a dark cloud occasionally cast a shadow. I convinced myself that I could handle it. Hadn’t I done that before? In two years of working at another animal shelter I had been mostly fine; grieving just once for the loss of our office cat, “Pumpkin”. Besides, in 47 years of being a pet owner I’ve made that final, brokenhearted trip to the vet’s office too many times. I knew what to expect.

Except I didn’t.

Rex, a 3 year-old German Shepherd, spent five months in a Western Ontario Humane Society before being adopted In May of 2018. In January of 2019 after just seven months in his adopted home, Rex was surrendered to us. As with so many of our surrenders, we didn’t really know his story. We often get snapshots but we don’t really get a full picture until they’ve spent some time with us. As it turned out Rex was aggressive when it came to other dogs, unpredictably aggressive with some people and aggressive when he spent time within barriers or fencing. As you can imagine, this made life inside a shelter incredibly stressful for him.

As Humane Society employees, we know German Shepherds don’t do well in shelters. They are particularly susceptible to the anxiety and stress that comes with the constant noise and the unfamiliar surroundings. However, we are also committed to keeping a dog for as long as it takes to safely place them in the right, forever home.

We worked very hard with Rex to reduce his anxiety. Initially, he showed some improvement but with the restrictions placed on potential adopters (no children, no other pets, room to roam) and his size – Rex topped out at around 100 lbs. – we couldn’t find him a forever home. After a few months, we contacted the Ottawa Humane Society and they agreed to take him as a transfer. Transfers of animals for behavioral issues can be beneficial. Sometimes a new environment can open the door to new opportunities. Unfortunately, the transfer was unsuccessful and Rex came back to us. Once again, we worked with him, introducing him to interested adopters, training him and trying to mitigate his behavior. We also contacted every rescue in our network. As time passed, his disposition became more unpredictable. When I arrived on the scene in April, he was not impressed with me personally. Each time I walked by him in Missy’s Way (our outdoor dog run) he barked and rushed the fence but I was determined to make friends. On Father’s Day, as I stood outside dealing with a maintenance issue at our building, one of our volunteers walked by with Rex. He seemed totally relaxed so I approached him. He gave me the “lean in”. If you’ve been around dogs you know this behavior. It used to be considered a form of dominance but current theory suggests that it’s a simple as it appears. The lean in is a sign of affection. I had won. We were friends.

Only we weren’t.

The next time I walked by Missy’s Way, Rex was snarling, barking and charging towards me.

“Rex, we’re friends remember?”

My calm demeanor had no effect. Rex was back to his old self. Still, I was undeterred.

During our monthly training in July, our animal programs manager, Christie, used me in a scenario to reinforce the methods utilized while introducing nervous dogs to potential adopters. It went better than we expected. At the end of the introduction, Rex was letting me pat him and was chasing and retrieving a tennis ball for me. My perseverance won out. Rex and I were finally and undeniably friends.

Only we weren’t.

The next time I walked past him in Missy’s Way, Rex was more aggressive than ever. I felt frustrated and concerned. If Rex wouldn’t warm up to me after several introductions and months of familiarity, how would he be with complete strangers? As it turns out, my fear was confirmed just a few days later when Rex tried to attack a very knowledgeable and experienced potential adopter during a meet and greet. Rex had moved from being aggressive to being dangerous.

Most behavioral problems can be addressed through consistent and appropriate training but when you combine the effects of shelter life, with an unknown history and erratic conduct, the possibilities for rehabilitation are reduced dramatically.

Rex had proven to be dangerous and unpredictable and we could not in good conscience, adopt him out knowing that he might, at any time, seriously injure a member of the public. After consulting with the senior veterinary staff and management of the KHS and unsuccessfully reaching out to rescues with a final, desperate appeal, we determined that euthanasia was our only alternative.

Rex’s final day included a run, a cheeseburger, some ice cream and time outside of the kennel with his favourite toys.

Rex died on a Wednesday morning. He was not yet five years-old.

We don’t know what he suffered through in his first 3 years. We don’t know if he was traumatized or beaten or neglected. All we know is that three Humane Societies did their best to give him the life he deserved. While he was here, he had moments of happiness, chasing his favourite stuffed animal, basking in the warmth of the spring sun or walking with our volunteers.
As an Executive Director it’s hard not to feel as if I failed Rex. My job is to save the unowned, unwanted animals of our community and find them forever homes. I didn’t do that for Rex. I also feel as if I failed the staff who worked so diligently to ease Rex’s anxiety and to give him moments of happiness. They were heartbroken and defeated by his death.

I thought I could handle the worst that this job could possibly throw at me. I thought I knew what to expect. I didn’t.

As Rex’s body was transported out of surgery we were all overcome with emotion. In the aftermath as the sorrow and sense of failure churned in my head, I witnessed a transformation that buoyed my spirit. I saw the women and men of the Kingston Humane Society move past the despair, into acceptance and on to a steely determination to care for every other animal entrusted to us. After allowing themselves time to grieve, they returned to an unwavering commitment to the animals in our care. In the shadow of the dark cloud surrounding Rex’s untimely end, the staff of the KHS found a way to keep working towards the inspirational, life-affirming stories that occur when we find one of our animals a loving, forever home.

The night after the decision on Rex was made, I went home uncertain of my role or my suitability for this job. Later, amidst the strength and determination of my colleagues, I found solace in their tenacity and in their commitment to keep doing their job…until every pet is wanted.

– Gord Hunter, Executive Director

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Contactless adoptions will begin on May 6th for limited number of animals

Kingston, ON – May 1, 2020
Beginning on Wednesday May 6th, the Kingston Humane Society (KHS) will resume adoptions of animals to suitable members of the public. The number of animals available will initially be limited and significant safety protocols will be employed to avoid any contact or direct interaction with potential adopters.

Five weeks ago, the KHS suspended all adoptions in an effort to significantly reduce the potential of COVID-19
transmission within the community or to the KHS staff. In that time, more than 100 foster volunteers have stepped up to care for animals that would normally have been housed in kennels and waiting for adoption.

“Our foster volunteers have been incredible,” said Gord Hunter, Executive Director, “but we’re starting to see
the expected spring influx of animals and we need to be sure we have capacity within the shelter once things
begin to open up again and once the foster families begin returning animals to us.”

The capacity of the current building is limited to 75 cats and 44 dogs. The KHS currently has 112 animals in
care; the majority in foster homes. In May of 2019, the Kingston Humane Society took in just under 200
animals. After this year’s mild winter, Animal Programs Manager Christie Haaima expects numbers to rise significantly, potentially putting the shelter well over capacity.

“Each year, we see a large influx of animals heading into the summer months, predominantly stray cats and
orphaned kittens,” said Haaima. “We can’t allow Covid-19 to prevent us from saving the lives of nearly 2,000 pets this year. We need to be prepared by continuing adoptions and expanding our foster program.”

Pre-adoption counselling and meet and greets will be done virtually utilizing available electronic meeting platforms. The successful adopters will then come to the shelter to pick up the animal in a no-touch environment. Adoption payments will be accepted by debit or credit only using no-touch or minimal contact protocols. All KHS staff employees will wear full PPE and adopters will be asked to wear gloves and masks when picking up their new family member.

“This is new to all of us and we expect to experience small glitches that we’ll address and correct on the fly,” said Hunter. “Our goal is to find forever homes for as many animals in our care as possible and to remain within our somewhat limited capacity, keeping the strain on staff and animals to a minimum.”

Beginning Wednesday May 6th, the public can find animals available for adoption on our website at . Online applications will be processed as received and suitable adopters will be contacted for virtual meet and greets.


The Kingston Humane Society is committed to advocating for and improving the lives of animals within our community. Founded in 1884, the KHS continues to provide shelter and care for homeless animals in Kingston and surrounding communities. We promote responsible pet ownership and compassion and respect for all animals. In addition, we work in and with our community to provide leadership in the humane treatment of all animals, to address the causes of animal suffering, to encourage people to take responsibility for their animal companions and to provide care for animals who are neglected, abused, exploited, stray or homeless.

Gord Hunter, Executive Director KHS, 613-546-1291 ext 105

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